Tentacle by Rita Indiana
Author: Rita Indiana translated from the Spanish by Achy Obejas
Genre: Speculative Fiction/Climate Fiction
Topics: LGBTQ, Climate Fiction,Santería
Triggers: Rape, violence, slurs
Publisher: And Other Stories
Publishing Year: 2018
Format Read: Paperback (Library)
My Rating: 4/5
In parallel stories a trans-man working as a maid to a Santeria priestess is destined to save the world and artist junkie who also lives over 300 years ago might be connected by a mysterious sea anemone that channels the power of the Yoruba gods. Confused? Intrigued? Tentacle is a strange, wondrous and gritty book that packs more emotional punch in 132 pages than some stories do in three times the length. Indiana’s 21st century, post-ecological disaster, technologically driven Dominican Republic is a grim and fully fleshed out world. Her story telling is sharp and she manages to juggle several parallel stories masterfully and brings them together in unexpected ways. Did I mention she does all this in 132 pages? Yes, I am still in awe. If you are looking for a prime example of a work that both exemplifies what can be achieved in a short story format while at the same time pushes the boundaries of genre and structure this book is for you.
Summary: Plucked from her life on the streets of post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo, young maid Acilde Figueroa finds herself at the heart of a Santería prophecy: only she can travel back in time and save the ocean – and humanity – from disaster. But first she must become the man she always was – with the help of a sacred anemone. Tentacle is an electric novel with a big appetite and a brave vision, plunging headfirst into questions of climate change, technology, Yoruba ritual, queer politics, poverty, sex, colonialism and contemporary art. Bursting with punk energy and lyricism, it’s a restless, addictive trip: The Tempest meets the telenovela.
There is much to breakdown in this novella, from it’s unique approach to character development to deep dives into family dynamics but I believe that the core of the success of this novel is in Indiana’s ability to blend current recognizable political and social issues in the Dominican Republic like poverty, gender and race and stretch them into a near future scenario that feels utterly fantastical yet terrifyingly plausible. Indiana actually shows us several time periods including the late 21st century after a devastating event has wiped out much of the Caribbean’s marine ecosystems, during the 90’s before this incident takes place and in the 1600’s. Each location feels fully immersive and the way in which these separate timelines play off each other is genuinely impressive to read. The stories eventually culminates in a surprising twist ending that will have readers asking themselves about the moral implications of the choices that the characters and by extension-we the readers-make about ourselves and the environment.
Another aspect that I also enjoyed the integration of Santeria practices as a plot keystone. I don’t have enough knowledge to comment on what was an accurate reflection of Santeria as it is practiced today and what poetic liberties the author took but Indiana seemed to blend Santeria into her narrative in a way that felt organic as both the religion that some of the characters practice and the driving “magical” force that serves as a catalyst for the main story. Needless to say it is not a practice that we often see reflected in fiction and one that I definitely would like to read more about.
Warning: There is a lot of violence, explicit sexual language, and sexual violence against women in particular in this story. While it serves as commentary on gender and power relationships it is quite graphic and there were several times when it made me uncomfortable while reading it. If this is something that you cannot tolerate reading about in fiction, I do advise you to skip this one.
Overall this is one of the most unique stories I have read. It defies the simple and straightforward in almost every way. Characters and timelines are not what or whom they seem and most characters have many moral shades of gray. The story includes elements of fantasy, sci-fi, and magical realism fit alongside dystopian punk, and the ending is a shocking, provocative and defies the reader’s and genre’s expectations. There are so many moving pieces but doesn’t feel cluttered or rushed; it is a true technical and narrative triumph and I am so glad that Indiana’s work is now available for English reading audiences to enjoy.
Read if you like:
Gritty queer dystopian fiction